Although predominately a blog for German Marques, there are certain British brands that have always had a strong appeal. Regular readers will be aware of a love for the Norton brand, and when it comes to cars, there has always been an unfulfilled desire to own a Lotus. Somewhere deep in the subconscious is a sense that Colin Chapman’s mantra of “Simplify, and then add lightness”, is a fundamental principle of goodness that goes beyond automotive applications. Anything that is a manifestation of that principle is of interest. So when the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania announced a Lotus exhibit, it was a must see event..
Chapman was a designer, an engineer, and a racer. Businessman, not so much. His wife put up the £25 Sterling to start Lotus in 1952. Selling parts and ideas and cars, was a way to finance the research and development conducted in his laboratory, which was the race track. The road cars were celebrated for their handling and performance. They were also criticized for their compromises to get there. These were machines for sporting drivers who were not concerned about creature comforts. Looking at the numbers on a spec sheet would mislead one into thinking that they were underpowered. They were not. And as a bonus, they were capable of being readily upgraded just by introducing more power. Brilliant.
The exhibit featured a range of cars from early to late, and from race cars to road cars. It was great to see one of the famous “backbone” frames with everything attached except the body. It gives you a real appreciation for the design. The open wheel cars are some of my favorite race cars of all time, and are perhaps the ultimate expression of simplicity. Plus, they look stunning in the classic green and yellow livery. The most elemental road car is the Lotus 7. It is really an open wheel car with fenders and a license plate. There is a reason that it has spawned innumerable imitators and can still be purchased today. The Elans and Elites are more refined, if you dare use that word in connection with an early Lotus. The Europas and Esprits were much more sophisticated and had supercar looks and appeal. And who does not love the black and gold liveried John Player Specials ?
The exhibit helped to articulate the amazing impact that Chapman and Lotus had on the history of Grand Prix racing, and on sports cars over many decades. Each of the cars on display was a prized trophy earned by Colin Chapman. However, my favorite trophy of the exhibit was the Lotus Cortina. It has been a dream car since childhood, and remains one today. There is something about that sedan in white with a green wedge stripe. And as a young boy, the sound of the Lotus twin cam engine with dual webers, left an indelible imprint.